Monday, October 1, 2007

Dogen's ubiquitous Dharma


It's often interesting when we find a correlation between various types of spiritual work. For example, I take great delight in the moments when I find an apparent correspondence between Dogen and Gurdjieff.

To me, it's equally interesting when I do not. Gurdjieff hardly cornered the market on spiritual understanding or ideas, even though, in some ways, he presented himself as the be-all and end-all on the matter.

In this particular instance, we're going to take a look at how Dogen feels about the relationship between the Dharma -- reality, the penetration of Being by Truth --and consciousness.

Oddly enough, along the way, as we examine this question, we are going to discover that even though Gurdjieff and Dogen appear to be in direct contradiction to each other, there is one moment in Gurdjieff's writing where we discover that perhaps they are not. And the particular comment I am going to glean from Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson will no doubt surprise those who have not read the text recently, or carefully.

First, let's take a look at this brief and (as usual) beautiful passage from Dogen's Shobogenzo:

"Never say that there is no benefit in hearing the Dharma without the involvement of mind-consciousness.Those whose mind has ceased and whose body is spent are able to benefit from hearing the Dharma, and those who are without mind and without body are able to benefit from hearing the Dharma. The buddhas and the patriarchs, without exception, pass through series of such instants in becoming buddhas and becoming patriarchs. How can the common intellect be fully aware of the influence of the Dharma connecting with the body-mind? It is impossible for us to fully clarify the limits of the body-mind. The merit of hearing the Dharma, once sown as a seed in the fertile ground of the body-mind, has no moment of decay; sooner or later it will grow, and, with the passing of time, it is sure to bear fruit." (Shobogenzo, Nishijima and Cross, Dogen Sangha Press, book 3, p. 100-101.)

So, you see, Dogen believes that man's development, once it is undertaken, takes place as a result of forces larger than man, and is constantly at work, even if a man's "common mind" is not.

I think we can all agree that this stands in stark contrast to Gurdjieff's cosmos of endless and relentless work, with the only light at the very end of the tunnel itself, and the danger of wrong crystallization, wrong development, losing the path, and so on, at hand with every step one takes.

Ouspensky apparently delighted in this spartan, oppressive picture of relentless work and nearly impossible difficulties. And, as I have pointed out before, I still believe that Gurdjieff gave the work to Ouspensky in this guise because that was what Ouspensky could relate to. If a man wants his work to be difficult, his obstacles to be nearly insurmountable, then giving him a work that offers anything less will prevent him from working.

This raises a lot of questions about how spiritual leaders give tasks, doesn't it? If the work does not suit the pupil, the pupil cannot do the work: he's not even interested in doing the work. Gurdjieff himself pointed out many times that work has to be tailored to the individual. To presume that he himself did anything other than that would be foolish.

Dogen presents us with the idea that even when we are not present, if we have begun to undertake work, it is at work within us. We are not, in fact, even able to fathom, with this common or ordinary mind, what is possible for us, or what is taking place within us. This understanding stands in marked contrast to the Gurdjieffian contention that anything that is not done with intention, done consciously, is wasted.

In Dogen's world view, one might argue, we are not even able to comprehend what conscious work is. In the staunch tradition of fully confounded expectations, all of our understanding of what conscious work consists of is turned on its head.

In this common state, with this common mind, perhaps we are not even able to be aware of what real conscious work is.


It may well be taking place without us. Hmm?

Heresy? Perhaps. A complete departure from the Gurdjieffian tradition? Potentially.

Yet we have this coda from Gurdjieff: one small, disturbing, apparently contradictory and even revolutionary remark gleaned from Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson:

"...I learned that these sacred substances 'abrustdonis' and 'helkdonis' are precisely those substances which enter into the formation and perfecting of the higher being bodies of the three-brained beings--that is, the 'kesdjan body' and 'body of the soul'--and that the separation of the sacred 'askokin' from the other two substances proceeds, when beings, on whatever planet they may be, transmute these sacred substances in themselves for the forming and perfecting of their higher bodies, by means of conscious labor and intentional suffering...

In this connection, the following personal opinion was formed in me:

If only these favorites of yours would seriously ponder all this and serve Nature honestly in this respect, their being self-perfecting might then proceed automatically, even without the participation of their consciousness..." (From the chapter Beelzebub's opinion of war, p. 1011-1012, Arkana edition, 1992.)

So apparently even the doctor of intentional consciousness himself was forced to allow for the possibility that inner work might take place "under its own steam," so to speak, if the right conditions were formed in a man. As it happens, I don't hear this passage discussed very often much by my fellow Gurdjieffians... How often? Actually, the word that comes to mind is "never."

Truth- the substance of Truth, the Dharma, not our conception of it--is a powerful force. All and everything arises from it. It penetrates everything, regulates everything, mediates everything.

It is we who are weak. Dogen's Dharma is infinitely strong.

To underestimate it is a form of vanity.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

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